That widely held opinion has made daily campaign visits the norm. Biden has stumped here more than in any other state by far, touching down in every media market, from an old steel town in the southwest to the central Pennsylvania dairyland to the big, bustling, colorful city of Philadelphia. Trump barnstormed across the state this week, hitting three campaign events across 200 miles in one day, from Eagles to Steelers country. Both candidates will be back in the state over the weekend and on Monday.
Here’s a Pennsylvanian’s look at the places Trump and Biden have been campaigning — and the reasons why those cities and towns are so critical in determining who wins the state’s 20 electoral votes.
Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman repeats the words like a mantra: “Tell me who wins Erie, I’ll tell you who wins Pennsylvania.”
The little-known county might be the biggest bellwether in the state: In 2016, it went for Trump by only 2 percentage points.
Located in the state’s northwestern corner, Erie is a predominantly white, blue-collar area that was once a Democratic stronghold with a proud labor tradition. Four years ago, it flipped to Trump after supporting President Barack Obama twice. But in the 2018 midterms, it came home to Democrats in a major way, backing the party’s gubernatorial and Senate nominees by double digits.
After state elected officials lobbied Biden’s campaign for months to visit the area, the former vice president traveled there in October. At a plumbers union training facility, he leaned into class war rhetoric: “If every investment banker in New York went on strike, nothing would much change in America. But if every plumber decided to stop working, every electrician, the country would come to a halt.”
Trump made a swing in the county days later, getting headlines for joking that he was so confident in his position here that “before the plague came in, I had it made — I wasn’t coming to Erie.”
The county is being seriously contested by both campaigns this year. Jim Wertz, chair of the Erie Democratic Party, took the task so seriously that he hired a field director in July. He even canvassed voters when Biden’s team abandoned the practice of door-knocking over the summer due to the coronavirus.
“If I was just going to judge this on voter turnout, mail ballots, face-to-face alone, I would feel pretty confident right now,” he said of the state of the race here. “But there’s so much scrutiny on the mail ballot process and there are so many unknowns about what Election Day is going to look like at the polls, that’s what bothers me. That’s what I think tightens the race.”
GOP Rep. Mike Kelly, whose district includes Erie County and more conservative areas nearby, likewise said on a recent call with reporters that feels “strong” about Trump’s position. But Kelly also inadvertently revealed a warning sign for Trump in Erie: He said the president is winning his congressional district in internal polls by about 10 percentage points — compared to 20 points in 2016.
Luzerne and Lackawanna counties are next-door neighbors in northeastern Pennsylvania that did a lot to deliver the state to Trump in 2016.
The president flipped Luzerne, a declining historic coal region, carrying the county by 26,000 votes — about 60 percent of his margin of victory statewide. And while Hillary Clinton won Lackawanna, she only did so by fewer than 4,000 votes, down from nearly 27,000 by Obama in 2012.
Lackawanna, the smaller of the two counties, is home to Scranton, Biden’s birthplace and the key to his middle-class political identity. So it’s no wonder that both Trump and Biden have made the area a priority, with the candidates making a combined total of five visits here this year.
When Biden announced a key plank of his economic recovery plan, he chose to do it from a metalwork plant in Lackawanna County’s Dunmore. Trump went to Scranton for a Fox News town hall in March. He also needled Biden by traveling to Old Forge, a 15-minute drive from Scranton, during the Democratic National Convention. And Trump is headed to Luzerne for a rally on the eve of the election.
“If Biden is elected, all of the security will quickly vanish, control of the border will be ceded to violent cartels and the left-wing crazies who empower them,” he said at the Old Forge rally, returning to the anti-immigration rhetoric he leaned into in 2016, which was popular in this region.
Northeastern Pennsylvania is one of the places where Trump is mining for even more votes than he won in 2016. The Republican National Committee said it has spent $350 million to revamp its national data program and locate pro-Trump voters who didn’t come to the polls four years ago.
A recent Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll found Trump performing better in the northeast than any other part of the state, leading Biden 55-39 here.
“The turnout on Election Day is going to be in favor of Donald Trump and it’s going to come out huger than 2016,” said Justin Behrens, chair of the Luzerne County Republican Party.
Biden’s team, meanwhile, is mostly looking to narrow its losses in Luzerne and perform better in Lackawanna than Clinton, in part by using his hometown appeal.
“I think that Joe Biden is doing well in this area,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat whose district includes Scranton. “People know him and they know who he is: that he cares about people.”
Philadelphia and its suburbs
There’s no doubt that Biden will sweep Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. The question is by how much.